Health risk rises as wildfire season begins


Take proper precautions in order to stay safe and healthy

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Summer smoke and hazy days are just ahead as wildfire season kicks off in parts of southern Oregon and southeastern Washington.

Scientists say that wildfire smoke will adversely affect millions of people — and cause a spike in premature deaths. According to researchers, the smoke is reducing our air quality and polluting the air up to thousands of miles away.

Scientists say it’s harder to grasp the health impacts from microscopic particles in the smoke that can trigger heart attacks, breathing problems and other maladies.

“We know that those smaller particles have the potential to get deeper in your respiratory tract where they can cause other problems and can even show up in other parts of your body and circulation,” said Julie Fox, Ambient Air Epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health

Julie Fox, Ambient Air Epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health. July 30, 2019 (KOIN)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over the past decade, as many as 2,500 people have annually died prematurely in the U.S. from short-term wildfire smoke exposure.

“We really worry that the fires from different seasons are starting to bump into each other,” she said.

For instance, with prescribed/agricultural burns in the spring or fall — butting up to the expanding summer wildfire season — ending with the wood-burning stoves in the wintertime is making the smoke more present in our air year-round.

“So we’re starting to see people getting longer exposures to smoke that are becoming more chronic, and we’re worried that can be worse for health,” said Fox. ​

When you see smoke in the sky or poor air quality alerts, public health officials urge you to keep your indoor air clean.

“Don’t contribute to indoor air pollution, what we mean by that is don’t do things like smoking, burning candles or incense, don’t vacuum unless you have a HEPA filter on your vacuum,” she said.

Keep windows and doors closed, run an air conditioner or use an air cleaner.

Do consider leaving the area if the air quality is poor and it’s not possible to keep your indoor air clean.

Smoke levels change fast — make sure you always have the latest information. If your area is affected by wildfire smoke, limit time and exercise outdoors. If you have to be outside, consider wearing an N95 or N100 medical mask.

By taking these proper precautions, health officials say you can stay both healthy and safe this wildfire season.

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